Bygone Days: Repairs to farm houses grants scale to be reviewed

The conditions under which the payment of grants were to be made for repairs to farm houses and approved workers’ houses were to be reviewed by the Ulster Minister of Finance, the News Letter reported this week in 1950.

By Darryl Armitage
Saturday, 6th June 2020, 12:00 pm
The Duke of Edinburgh inspects a Champion Bull at the 1996 Balmoral Show. Picture: News Letter archives
The Duke of Edinburgh inspects a Champion Bull at the 1996 Balmoral Show. Picture: News Letter archives

That was an assurance to that effect given at Stormont this week in 1950 by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health and Local Government Captain Terence O’Neill during a debate on the Committee stage of the Housing on Farms Bill.

Captain O’Neill said that the Minister of Finance (Major Sinclair) had told him that the point “would be sympathetically reconsidered”, and he hoped that members would be content with that.

The statement was made after Mr McCullagh (Nationalist, Mid-Tyrone) and Mr McSparran (Nationalist, Mourne) had asked that grants be paid to small farmers who had expended £50 on reconditioning their premises.

The Duke of Edinburgh speaks to showgoers at the Balmoral Show in 1996. Picture: News Letter archives

It was noted that the bill provided for a grant two-thirds of the amount by which the cost of reconditioning exceeds £75, but did not exceed £375, and for a grant of £200 if the cost was more than £375.

Mr Faulkner (Unionist, East Down) said that there were few farmers who did not require dwelling houses to be reconditioned and he was interested to hear that the Minister of Finance would consider the question of lowering the minimum amount that could be spent on a house in order to qualify for a grant.

NEW HOUSES

Regarding the statutory conditions relating to grants for new farmhouses and houses for approved workers, Mr Minford (Unionist, Antrim) objected to the condition that a new farmhouse or part thereof “shall not, without the written consent of the Ministry, be used otherwise than the dwelling-house of the person who is primarily engaged in carrying on or directing agricultural operations on the farm . . . and the family of such person”.

Andrea O'Hare from Londonderry and Aoife Thomas from Belfast make friends with Bassett Judge, a Charolais bull from Ballymena at the 1996 Balmoral Show. Picture: News Letter archives

Mr McSparran said that farmers living near the seaside should be able to let their house in the summer.

Mr Minford suggested that the entire clause be wiped out.

Captain O’Neill said the intention was to prevent farmers accepting a grant and making a misuse of it when he had his new house.

By 17 votes to six the clause stood part of the bill, which passed the committee stage without amendment.

Two year old Jayne Stevenson and her father have a close encounter with an ostrich at the Balmoral Show in 1996. Picture: News Letter archives

PREVIOUS OBJECTIONS ‘MET’

Later that week the News Letter reported a further update on the discussions at Stormont

Dame Dehra Parker (Minister of Health), speaking at Stormont, appealed to farmers to take full advantage of the new Housing on Farms Bill, in order to improve their houses and those of their workers.

She stated that the bill met all the major objections raised to the 1948 measure.

To meet the case of small farmsteads, the minister moved an amendment reducing from £75 to £50 the amount of expenditure which farmers would have to raise from their own resources before qualifying for the government grant.

That concession, she said, would be limited to farmers the aggregate annual value whose land and buildings did not exceed £35.

She said: “It will apply to two-thirds of agricultural holdings in the province.”

She added: “The farmer whose valuation exceeded £35 will still be required to meet from his own resources the first £75 of approved expenditure.”

Several members on both sides of the House pleaded for a certain amount of latitude in applying the regulations and asked that each application should be treated on its merits.

Captain O’Neill gave an assurance that applications for grants would be sympathetically considered.

He said that both he and the minister were “anxious that the bill should be a success.”

Replying to Mr Minford (Unionist, Antrim), Dame Dehra Parker said that the question of houses exceeding 1,050 superficial feet for farmers had been raised at two interviews with the Farmers’ Union.

On the second occasion she had pointed out that it would be quite impossible to grant that further concession.

She remarked: “Those houses are subsidy houses, and no other section of the community can get a subsidy or grant for houses larger than 1,050 superficial feet.”

She said she hoped that farmers would be satisfied with the preferential treatment which they were getting under the bill.

Mr Andrews (Unionist Mid-Down) said there was no reason why the bill should not be a real success.

The bill was read a third time and passed.

‘CONNECTED UP WITH CURRENT’

Speedy electrification of Ulster agriculture, “which had the greatest turnover of all industries in the province”, was essential if farming in Northern Ireland was to improve on the advances which had been made since 1939, said Mr A G Algeo, deputy president of the Ulster Farmers’ Union and a member of the Electricity Board at a meeting of Islandmagee farmers during this week in 1950.

Mr Algeo was speaking at a demonstration of electrical appliances on the farm and in the home, which was held in the Rinkha Hall by the Electricity Board and the Islandmagee Electrification Committee.

The demonstration was part of the effort which Islandmagee farmers had been making for some time to bring electricity to the rural area.

Since the Electricity Board was established, said Mr Algeo, over 3,000 Northern Ireland farms had been “connected up with current”.

He continued: “Since last January, another 1,006 farms have been passed for supply, of which 181 had already been connected up.

In Islandmagee, he told the farmers, it was hoped to have the two schemes for the district completed by February or March 1951.

He remarked: “Already 95 have been connected up and 24 farms are wired and waiting for supply.”

Mr W W Topping, KC, MP, said that the Islandmagee people had, through their own efforts and work, succeeded in finally getting a scheme for their district accepted by the board. He said: “Had it not been for the co-operation and determination the scheme would not have reached its present stage.”